Our regular Formula One correspondent, Nick van der Meulen, outlines the most recent round of the current F1 season in his report F1 Review France 2022.
Formula 1 racing cannot run without the French Grand Prix: it was the French who introduced motor racing. The Paris-to-Rouen Horseless Carriage Contest was the first staged motorsport event in 1894; the first French Grand Prix in 1906. The Paul Ricard circuit was built in 1969 and named after the pastis magnate who funded its construction. It shared duties of hosting the French Grand Prix from 1971 until 1990. A certain Mr. BC Ecclestone purchased it in 1999 and upgraded it extensively. The F1 mogul relinquished ownership of the complex to ex-wife Slavica in 2009.
Order from our online store and take advantage of free delivery in South Africa on orders over R349
Clutch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory
Ferrari, again, demonstrated its intention of throwing away any chance of victory in the 2022 F1 world championship. Carlos Sainz had to start from the back due to a power-unit change. Charles Leclerc, on the other hand, took pole position for the race. He started well, taking the lead ahead of archrival Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing). Despite the Dutchman’s best intentions, Leclerc managed to keep him at bay.
On lap 11, however, it all went wrong for the Monegasque, losing the rear of his mount in Turn 12. It pitched him into the tyre barrier and out of the race. The driver took it on the chin and took responsibility for the incident, but it may have been something else. It appears that Leclerc may have suffered another throttle issue, which resulted in his accident.
Read our exclusive interview with the CEO of SAGP, the company aiming to bring a race to Kyalami, at this link.
Either way, the incident may have sealed his fate in the world championship chase. Sainz drove superbly to charge through the field, but had to serve a five-second penalty for a pit infringement. The team decided to pit the Spaniard with 10 laps remaining just after he overtook Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing). He returned to the track in ninth place and carved his way to fifth at the finish. It is clear the Ferrari machine is fast, but fragile, however, their strategists are arguably the worst in the paddock.
Red Bull must be considering Christmas presents for the Ferrari team after all the gifts they have received this season. Verstappen picked up the pieces following Leclerc’s crash and waltzed to his seventh victory of 2022. Perez was unhappy at losing out on a podium finish, but still salvaged a good points haul by finishing fourth. Verstappen’s victory is his 27th in F1, tying with legend Jackie Stewart.
The Mercedes team was pleased with its performance at Paul Ricard, as both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished on the podium. Hamilton had a lonely drive to second place, while Russell scrapped mightily with Perez to finish third. It was Hamilton’s 300th Grand Prix start. Incidentally, no driver has yet won a race after passing that milestone. Perhaps the Englishman can break the record soon…
Fernando Alonso broke another of Kimi Raikkonen’s records, this time completing the most number of laps in F1 history. He broke the Finn’s number of starts record earlier in the season. The Spaniard has 18 672 laps to his name and has many more to complete before the end of his contract. The veteran scored well on race day, finishing sixth, while teammate (and hometown hero) Esteban Ocon finished eighth.
Both McLaren drivers scored points in France, after both qualified in the top ten. (Ricciardo started ninth after Sainz and Magnussen were relegated to the back of the field). Lando Norris raced to a solid seventh position finish, while the ‘Honey badger’ claimed points for ninth. The two Aston Martin drivers, Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel, scrapped for tenth position in the closing stages of the race. The Canadian narrowly beat his German teammate in the run to the chequered flag.
Verstappen comfortably leads the world championship, now 63 points ahead of Leclerc. The Monegasque is only seven points clear of Perez, while Sainz is a further 19 points adrift. Russell is only one point behind Sainz in fifth position.
Red Bull Racing increased its constructors’ championship advantage over Ferrari to 82 points. Mercedes has closed the gap to the Italian marque to 44 points, while also a whopping 177 points clear of Alpine. The French marque is a mere three points ahead of McLaren.
The thirteenth round of the world championship takes place at Hungaroring, Hungary, next weekend. For decades, it has been the second-slowest circuit on the F1 calendar, with only Monaco slower. Passing is difficult at best, making the qualifying session extremely important. Will Leclerc, qualifying king of 2022, be able to use this to his advantage following the disaster at France?